Thanks to a federal law passed in 1986—the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA)—an estimated six million military and overseas civilian voters have the right to cast absentee ballots in America's federal elections, including last year's historic presidential contest. But it is the laws and practices of the 50 states and the District of Columbia that determine how and when these voters participate—and, most important, whether they can successfully cast a ballot.
Many state and local election officials are doing a remarkable job trying to ensure that American military voters serving around the world are able to participate in our federal elections. But No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America's Overseas Military Voters shows that 25 states and the District of Columbia have to improve their absentee voting process for their military citizens abroad. We do not yet know how many military voters stationed overseas cast absentee ballots in the 2008 elections, or how many of those ballots actually were counted. But according to our analysis, those who may have voted successfully last fall did so in the face of procedural hurdles and tight deadlines in half the states and Washington, D.C. These challenges ranged from blank ballots being mailed out too late to completed ballots being returned by fax or e-mail, which raises questions about the privacy and security of the votes. In fact, given our conservative assumptions, the remaining states, with time to vote, would also benefit from giving their voters additional time to request and return their ballots.